Some Good Came With the Bad

Mark Mangino (Steve Puppe photo)

In the last three weeks, we've heard about former Kansas coach Mark Mangino behaving in ways that would scare Gitmo interrogators.

Nevertheless, I found myself feeling a little sad when the news finally came down Thursday night that Mark Mangino would no longer be the head football coach.

Please don't misunderstand; I don't condone what the man did. I'm as big a wuss as anyone. One dirty look from the man and I'd have run from the locker room, screaming like a little girl.

But I'm old, and anyone who can remember playing cassette tapes on their car stereos will know what I'm talking about when I say that I spent dozens of Saturday afternoons in a half-full Memorial Stadium, listening to my dad curse like a drunken sailor. Occasionally the stadium would fill up, but when it did, half of the people in it were wearing red polyester.

Every six or seven years, a good team would come along – usually lead by a great player or two, like David Jaynes or Willie Pless or Willie Vaughn – and wow us with a staggering 7-4 record. And just as soon as those terrific players left campus, so did the winning record. The next year, it was back to business as usual: 3-8, maybe 2-9.

So I'm disillusioned that the coach who had always been so professional and businesslike and, on occasion, even cordial with me ended up being a very different person than I thought he was. I've tried to remind myself that plenty of good did come from the Mark Mangino era at Kansas. We might all do well to remember that.

There are a lot of Jayhawk football fans who, not all that long ago, would've laughed at you if you'd told them that 50,000 people would fill Memorial Stadium to see Kansas play some directional school in September.

They couldn't have imagined an undersized quarterback using his oversized moxie and tremendous football smarts to make plays and have fans believing that their Jayhawks had a chance every single Saturday – all because Mangino was the only FBS coach who thought he could play in the Big 12 . And I'm talking about Bill Whittemore.

Todd Reesing had the chance to thrill us all – along with his fellow Kansans Jake Sharp, Darrell Stuckey and Kerry Meier – because Mangino saw something he liked.

He beat Kansas State for the first time in what seemed like forever. He beat Nebraska for the first time in what scientists are starting to think really was forever.

Old fans like me heard the idea a few years back for a new $36 million football complex adjacent to Memorial Stadium and wondered where all that money – or where all the KU fans who liked football, for crying out loud – was going to come from

The money and fans came from everywhere after an Orange Bowl win, a top-10 ranking and a 12-1 record in 2007. If you'd asked us prior to that magic season if we thought that squad was going to start 11-0 en route to the most successful year in school history, we'd have asked what you'd been drinking.

In the last five or six years, there's been a palpable sense of excitement on Game Day in Lawrence, and there's more to it than Bob Hemenway giving the green light to getting hammered in the parking lot before kickoff. Mangino changed the culture of Kansas Football and changed what it meant to be a Jayhawk fan. Every Game Day since 2005, I walked into the stadium truly believing that my team had a chance to win, no matter how out-manned they were supposed to be. His teams always played hard. His teams never quit. Over time, his teams, along with the fans, learned that if they kept sawing wood, good things could happen. And they often have.

What's ironic about that feeling of confidence is that Mangino's record of 50-48 – just two wins shy of becoming the school's all-time winningest coach – was built on non-conference cream puffs and, until this past season, beating the bad Big 12 teams they were supposed to beat. Unfortunately, with last Saturday's loss to the Missouri Slavers, Mangino's conference record dropped to a dismal 23-41. Take out the 7-1 Big 12 record they wracked up in 2007, and Mangino is 16-40 in the league. That's less than a .290 winning percentage. Hardly a record that inspires confidence.

It speaks, however, to the extent to which Mark Mangino and his Kansas teams changed the way Jayhawk fans look at our program. We walk with our heads a little higher and our crimson and blue a little bit brighter.

Mangino talked at his post-Mizzou Q&A at Arrowhead about interviewing for the KU job. At the time, he was told that the top priority for the new coach was to instill structure and discipline where there had been none.

Mark Mangino cared deeply for Kansas Football and the young men who came under his care and coaching. He was only trying to do the job he was hired to do and produce young men with strength, intelligence and character. I honestly believe that Mark Mangino never meant to hurt anyone. But he did.

I'd like to thank Mangino for a (mostly) fun ride, and I'd like to wish him well. I also hope he manages to do the things he needs to do to keep his name out of the newspaper for all the wrong reasons.

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